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Feb-09-2012 @ 7:34 PM                           Permalink
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Some may recall that I used to write articles regularly for the magazine and the web site review column that was scrapped when Paul took over.

He became the editor at AA at a time of huge economic upheaval at Archant. Apparently the magazine was very close to closure and his brief, if it was to survive the Archant axe, was to bring in much more money. The web site column had to go because he had found a web design company that would pay to have their copy appear in the magazine, rather then have the magazine pay me. He wanted more of that kind of financial input from businesses whose name would appear in the copy.

I asked about the possibility of the magazine going monthly, as a way of bringing in more income. He responded that 75% of the income (I think that was the proportion, it may have been more) came from the relatively small number of regular advertisers. There was no way they would accept doubling their bill, so going monthly wasn't a possibility. I got the feeling that magazine sales would not even meet marginal costs (to use an accountants expression) and from the publisher's point of view, everything is geared to the advertiser, not the reader - although, obviously, there must acceptable circulation for the advertisers to be prepared to place their adverts.

I made some proposals about the kind of articles I would be happy to write. Chief of these was to start on a series of articles about sailing clubs. I had had one on the Ouse Amateur Sailing Club published already and wanted to work my way around the coast, letting someone else take over when the series got beyond the easy reach of my then West Norfolk home. However, he already had that idea tied up. Garth Cooper was their man inside the RYA and would be writing them.

Apart from getting more money out of advertisers and soliciting business-sponsored articles, he also aimed to increase circulation. His initial editorial (#36) set out how he hoped to achieve that. It included reaching out to RYA clubs and their membership and appealing to families and women in particular.

Because I had mentioned an interest in doing articles on sailing clubs he suggested that I should make contact with some and attend their annual dinners and prize giving events and take as many photographs of those attending as possible. I was appalled at this prospect. The last thing I'm interested in is "Who's who in the In-Crowd". As far as I was concerned that represented the worst thing about "County Life" magazines and I didn't wish to be associated with such a publication.

To widen the appeal for women the plan was to re-introduce a fashion section. I groaned internally again! That was the nail in the coffin for me. I didn't want to be part of a magazine that was going to follow that route. I even posted on a few waterways forums and mail lists (which include the editors of a couple of Canal and Waterways magazines and some of which were actually founded by women) to see if anyone could understand why Anglia Afloat might need a fashion section, when none of the inland waterways magazines need one.

It didn't help that throughout our telephone conversation, Paul placed great stress on his background and success in publishing, and made various disparaging remarks about John Lawson's management of the magazine. I knew nothing, and still don't, of the internal politics at Archant or how John was regarded generally at the magazine, but as a reader, I had always been impressed that under his editorship it had grown from nothing the becoming "UK Regional Magazine of the Year".

So how did the magazine fair under Paul's editorship? I've no idea, in terms of profit or circulation - although, Steve Cox did report that his second issue, #51, had a record circulation 36% up on the previous year. When Paul took over I did notice a handful of articles from Garth that were intended to drive the increase in RYA readership, a handful of the annual dinner photoshoots (There was a thread here on the forum at the time they were appearing bemoaning the appalling quality of the photography in Anglia Afloat) and the return of the fashion pages. John Lawson had dropped the feature pretty soon after launch.

Paul did continue his drive for women readers, with a special women-only dinner held at a posh hotel in Coltishall, where magazine content was to be discussed by those attending. I couldn't help but be amused that neither the annual dinner photoshoots nor fashion pages have appeared in the magazine since then. So, in spite of Paul's comments to me, I couldn't help feeling that maybe John Lawson had the content about right by the time he left. Nor do I notice much change to John's formula since Steve Cox took over.

We have always had people here posting complaints that the magazine was full of millionaires boats and little for the masses. I guess that is inevitable as the economics of producing a local magazine like Anglia Afloat does mean that it is only the businesses that aim at the rich that can afford to pour money into long term full page adverts in a local magazine.

There's nothing wrong with some aspirational boating, but I agree, I would like to see many more articles on more down to earth stuff. I'd be prepared to write them too, but Paul so put me off that I haven't felt inclined to approach Steve with any of my ideas. Perhaps I should!

Greg Chapman
My Boating Biography
The Three Rivers Race

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